I was fortunate to speak with Bill Pollock of No Starch Press, just prior to their debut on the popular Humble Bundle service. I had contacted him because I was searching for Lego-themed books, and was delighted to find a publisher who both published such things, and also offered them DRM-free, and in print/eBook bundles!
Pollock, as it turned out, was a tad on the old-school side, as far as that goes. He felt that if customers wanted an eBook copy too, it was easy enough to provide it for them, so why not. But he is a print man himself, and that was reflected in the review content he sent me. The print copy of ‘Steampunk Lego’ has yet to arrive, but the PDF version is beautiful, intricate, and not at all the same in pale, lesser-formed ePub. This is a book which is meant to be enjoyed in print, and when I subsequently partook in the Humble Bundle, I downloaded only the PDF versions.
In a lesson for indies and other DIYers, Pollock is a fan of outsourcing the techie things. O’Reilly does their PDF and eBook conversions, and he had little idea how that all worked. When I asked him what would happen if a customer reported an error, he said he had people who could deal with that, but he did not know how they would go about it. He is firmly in the book-making camp; ‘I don’t want to open a bookstore,’ he told me.
It’s for that reason they haven’t followed on the heels of the other Lego-themed publisher I found, and packed the books with kits of pieces or any other such promotions. There are benefits to such products, but there are drawbacks too, and he did not have the manpower or the inclination to deal with customer service queries on missing pieces, replacement pieces or other fulfillment issues. ‘We have enough trouble just making the books right now,’ he told me. ‘We need to focus on the core business.’
No Starch Press got into the Lego-themed books in 2000, because they saw a ‘real opportunity’ but Pollock believes the market for such books is saturated. Lately, their focus has been on STEM-related topics, written for parents and teachers. This is reflected somewhat in their Humble Bundle offering, which includes topics on programming, science basics and Maker-type stuff. We commiserated together on the need for this material. Even as far as the Lego goes, we have many students in my school who are instruction-followers and are afraid to go off-plan and make their own things. Pollock hopes his company’s products will inspire kids to do just that.
If you haven’t checked out the Humble Bundle, it’s a good deal. I paid up my $15 just for the Lego books, and am happy with the ones I have perused so far. I’ll do a more detailed review when my print copy of Steampunk Lego arrives, so I can compare the e-versions with their paper counterpart.
Thanks so much to Bill, and to his assistant, Mackenzie, for taking the time to work with me!